Cooling and Findlay: ‘On board and enthusiastic’

He has been excited, angry, offended and finally, when it was obvious Wye Park was a dead duck, outraged. But in private Cllr Ian Cooling was regarded as ‘on board’ with Project Alchemy and described as ‘enthusiastic’ by one of the Imperial plan’s leading proponents.

Cllr Cooling, who recently said that he is ‘moving on’ from questions about his allegiance during the brief life of Wye Park, features in the latest and largest release of documents from Kent County Council so far, made available to under the Freedom of Information Act. We will be publishing all 73 documents — consisting of emails, hand-written notes and letters — over the next few days. Amongst other revelations, the documents reveal:

  • That all those involved in Project Alchemy — including Ashford leader Paul Clokie who two months ago protested that he did not know about the scale of Imperial’s housing plans — knew that the college was hoping to get permission to build homes on up to 400 acres and that it was seeking a £100 million endowment.
  • That threatened with the total withdrawal of Imperial from Kent, officers at KCC were the original brains behind the Wye Park idea … not the college.
  • That officers and leading councillors at KCC fell over themselves to express their boundless enthusiasm for Imperial’s plans.
  • That plans for a road into Wye from the M20 and a new link to the A28 costing more than £30 million were worked up by Pete Raine’s strategic planning department at KCC in 2004, long before such a thing was demanded by Imperial.

But it is to Cllr Cooling and his silent friend, county councillor Charles Findlay, that the first document refers. It is a letter from Paul Carter, KCC leader, to Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial, shortly after a lunch held between the two men on November 22 last year. The lunch was four days after November 18 when Cllrs Cooling and Findlay were fully briefed by Imperial on the Wye Park plan — the date that Cllr Cooling insists is when he first knew about Project Alchemy even though he had mentioned Imperial’s science park plan to an Ashford council committee the previous May and despite being named in a document launching Project Alchemy which was dated November 8.

In his gushing letter Cllr Carter thanks Sir Richard for lunch and says that he ‘hopes you had a constructive meeting with Damian yesterday’, referring to the briefing that Ashford MP Damian Green received from Imperial on November 23. He continues: ‘I’m very much looking forward to 6th December and will be liasing closely with David [Brooks Wilson – Imperial’s now redundant director of estates] and John [McCready of consultants Ernst & Young] on the communications strategy.’

But it is Cllr Carter’s hand-written post script which will raise yet more questions about the conduct and allegiance of Wye’s two elected representatives:




So, Cllrs Cooling and Findlay were ‘on board’ and Carter was ‘delighted by their enthusiasm’.

We’ve given up hoping that Cllr Findlay might break his vow of silence when it comes to matters concerning his own constituency, but before Cllr Cooling ‘moves on’ this remarkable aside begins to throw a little light on what he was up to when, as he has told the village, he was ‘working behind the scenes’.

Read the full Carter letter here


About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome, Pieter Vos in Amsterdam, adaptions of the Sarah Lund stories in Copenhagen, and versions of Shakespeare worked for Audible.
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6 Responses to Cooling and Findlay: ‘On board and enthusiastic’

  1. Jack Woodford says:

    Smoke and Mirrors continue to obscure what really occured before and during the Imperial College Vision, we now have the prospect that our Borough Councillor was privy to discussions relating to the Science Park, and Ashford Borough Council back in May of last year…. i seem to remember asking him at a parish Council Meeting in February this year, as to when he was made au-fait with the Imperial College Vision, and his reply was at the begining of December 2005, I had a letter published in Kent Messenger, expressing my astonishment that the Ward Member was unaware of what was being discussed between Ashford Borough Council and Imperial College…maybe my astonishment was misplaced…as further revelations continue to appear as to what really transpired last year, and still continue to occur.

  2. sue powell says:

    I see that Cllr Cooling spoke at a recent meeting of the Wye Future Group.

    Stating that the ‘battle for Wye’ had been won, he apparently emphasised that ‘while Ben (Moorhead) and John Hodder were doing such great jobs, he himself had not been needed.’

    Really? On the contrary, it seems he had been very much needed – but unfortunately, it was Imperial who needed him, not Wye and its electorate. ‘On board’ and ‘enthusiastic’ sounds pretty positive to me – and getting a pat on the the head from Mr. Brooks Wilson for ‘well crafted’ statements” (must make sure the Boss approves before anything is said in public).

    Going into battle, as Whitehall Warriors should know, can be a messy business. But it’s a good idea to decide which side you are fighting for before setting out.

  3. Alan Paterson says:

    As a lifelong villager and WFG activist I am well aware that what follows may reduce my credibility and call my judgement into question – indeed it has taken nearly a week to phrase my thoughts aright.

    I have silently watched the comments denigrating the efforts and questioning the allegiance of Ian Cooling grow in intensity and venom in recent months.

    I have known Ian since the early 1970s when we became neighbours. I acted as his agent in handling tenancies of his house when he served abroad and we have more recently bought from him an extension to our garden when he moved house. In all dealings I found him prefectly straightforward – even easy to deal with.

    After an early career in military intelligence, I imagine he was fast-tracked by the Foreign Office as an arab specialist. He was, I believe, Head of Chancery at our embassy in Tripoli when we were thrown out of Libya in the early 1980s. He ended his career in Switzerland, a hotbed of international diplomacy (yes, really!)

    We have since elected him onto WPC, then as Wye’s representative on ABC. He has rapidly risen in that politically-affiliated world to be one of Paul Clokie’s cabinet.

    I believe Ian when he says he did not know of Imperial’s intentions before 18 November last, when he must have faced some difficult decisions. Given his diplomatic training it is not surprising that he remained as close as he could to the centres of information and decision-making.

    If he had then chosen to become an immediate ‘anti-spokesman’ on behalf of Wye, inevitably he would have been forced off the ABC cabinet and excluded from such information as Imperial were willing to release to him. He must have recognised then that the adoption of such a strategy would make him unpopular and render his action open to misinterpretation. He has opted, in my view bravely, to tread an increasingly lonely and difficult path.

    Don’t fotget that in his Open Letter at the end of March and in his comments on this site, whilst he supported any appropriate rejuvenation of the campus, he declared his opposition to any building on greenfield land – the exact stance of both WPC and WFG.

    He has of course made mistakes – there is currently great angst over his perceived failure to support his electorate over flooding issues at the Oil Depot development site. As with any politician he seeks to ally himself with any success he can, sometimes claiming influence where none can have existed. And yes, he will never be selected as a male mannequin, middle-aged fashion icon, nor role model by any temperance society!

    There are often two ways to view an issue – think of how you describe a second-hand car depending on whether you are trying to buy it or sell it. I am always amused by the the story of the man who was so ashamed of his father’s death (hung by the state as a convicted murderer in the days of capital punishment) that he claimed that he had been ”attending an official ceremony when the platform collapsed underneath him and he was killed”.

    I invite anyone to review all of the available material here and elsewhere with the underlying attitude ‘Cooling represented what he saw as the village’s best interests throughout the last twelve months’. Whilst you might have handled matters differently (and hindsight is a wonderful thing), knowing the man, I do not believe he could have behaved any differently.

    Apart from the promise of serious funds from Imperial in a Swiss bank account on the granting of planning permission (or somesuch) – perish the thought – I can’t think what his motivation (other than naked ambition within ABC?) might be in behaving contrary to the village’s best interests. As matters stand, he has probably placed himself in a position where he’s not re-electable against any credible opponent. Given his political nouse, you don’t do that lightly.

    In closing I would make two points. Firstly I have written this piece entirely on my own initiative and it will come as complete surprise to Ian. Secondly, as I have said before on this site, I believe that party politics should play no part in local government – and if the Tory whip and block-vote allegiances had not existed, then Imperial’s grandiose scheme would never have got off the starting blocks.

    What we all need are more fearless Independents – any volunteers?

    I believe Ian Cooling to be deep – even devious – but certainly not corrupt in any sense. If anyone knows differently then I’d like to hear from them – 01233-812740 or . I truly hope from Ian’s point of view that subsequent revelations do not prove me wrong.

  4. Justin Williams says:

    Ian Cooling’s motives are something only he can reveal and frankly are irrelevant. What matters are his actions. While telling the village – rather quietly – that he was on its side and murmuring about ‘working behind the scenes’, Cllr Cooling, among other things…

    ▀ Was applauded for being ‘on board and enthusiastic’ by Paul Carter in a letter to Richard Sykes.

    ▀ Wrote a detailed 11-point memorandum advising Imperial on how to proceed with its attempts to further its dreadful ambitions, which included urging a web-site, a newsletter and a letter-writing campaign to the local paper to correct ‘the hugely erroneous record that grows weekly’.

    ▀ Maintained such cosy relations with David Brooks Wilson that the latter placed him top of his important contacts list.

    ▀ Displayed amazing prescience of important but secret meetings at Imperial relating to Wye Park – notably the June 12 management meeting which put the project into ‘economy mode’. Prior to this meeting he asked whether Brooks Wilson thought a get-together between the two men might be useful.

    ▀ Emailed Imperial and cleared the answer he proposed to post on save-wye in response to questions about the ghastly lunch he attended with Sykes and his lackeys at County Hall on May 23.

    He may have told the village that he didn’t want any building on green field sites. But lots of his correspondence with Imperial has now either been released under the FOI Act or leaked to this site from within the college. In not one of these emails did Cllr Cooling tell Imperial that he would resist any encroachement on to green field land or the AONB.

    We still don’t know the full story here either, since e-mails, meeting notes and even details of lunches are still unreleased. I should also point out that in addition he went out of his way to rubbish the content of this site at every turn. He never missed an opportunity to cast doubt about the veracity of information published here … both in public and private. In particular, Cllr Cooling rubbished save-wye for its ‘negative conspiracy theories’ – all of which turned out to be true and we assume were known to be true by Cllr Cooling since he was part of the cosy little loop that was trying to foist this development on Wye.

    We have never accused Ian Cooling of trying to make some pecuniary advantage out of his position. Both David and I don’t believe that for one moment. The man hardly lives the life of somebody taking even a single penny in bungs. However, it is surely clear that he has worked the secret network assiduously and by his own admission given Imperial the impression he was on their side.

    Why? Only he can tell us, and he clearly won’t.

    In September he urged all this to go to the Local Government Ombudsman. Surely that would be the best way to solve all this – and the release of all the documents, e-mails and correspondence between him, Imperial and the two councils, so that his constituents know exactly what has gone on.

  5. David Hewson says:

    I second the above. I haven’t known Ian Cooling as long as you Alan but I have known him for some time, I know he has worked hard for Wye and have said so here, even while he’s been slagging us at every opportunity. In September I wrote, ‘We know of your genuine and heartfelt affection for Wye and its residents, Ian. We know, too, that you put in long hours on work that most of us would find too tedious to countenance.’

    The present situation stems from his own actions, nothing else. I can only reiterate Justin’s comments that we don’t believe for a moment there was a pecuniary advantage. Equally, as this article says, you don’t need money to change hands for a political process to be corrupt. That word is, as the article says, equally appropriate when applied to, ‘The practice of unlawful or improper use of influence, power, and other means.’ If this is not an example of improper use of influence, power and other means I don’t know what is.

    The people responsible for the close shave that was Wye Park would now dearly love to believe this is all dead and buried. Perhaps that is the majority view. I hope not because if it is someone else in Kent will get this nightmare on their doorstep before long and this time they might not be lucky. Who knows? It might even be Wye.

  6. Ben Moorhead says:

    Wonderful Pearls as always from Justin and David these last eight days,a veritable treasure trove for which all readers but especially WFG are grateful. On the question of complaints/reporting WFG has constantly reviewed this.We made some Standards Board for England complaints a long way back and then repeated them. On LGO there are a lot of issues to be aware of to get it in on time and properly put. We have spent a lot of time looking at this and are currently reviewing all our options in light of the latest catalogue of save-wye stories.
    God Save Save-Wye,

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